Letters to the editor: racial incident, smoking
March 9, 2013 • 2,967 views
Administration’s response not enough
On Feb. 27, the St. Olaf community received an email from Dean of Students Rosalyn Eaton-Neeb and Vice President for Student Life Greg Kneser about “theft and incivility.” The email made us aware of an incident where someone had stolen two Palestinian flags from an informational display put up by the organization Oles for Justice in Palestine in the hallway between Buntrock Commons and the library and had written “Death to Gaza” on one of the group’s posters.
Despite an increasingly diverse student population, acts of hate and racism have happened multiple times on this campus. They have outraged me and made me feel shameful to be a part of this community. This is not an isolated incident. The international community, including myself, repeatedly feels threatened, victimized and ostracized for our views, beliefs and for who we are. While the St. Olaf administration chooses to address this issue as simply “uncivil,” I see it as a direct attack on many of my personal beliefs.
When these incidents of hate have taken place, the St. Olaf administration has chosen to take a very hands-off approach in handling the situation. My international friends – some of whom are Palestinian – and I belong to and are a part of this campus just as much as my white, Lutheran, Minnesotan friends. If there were a similar attack on the Lutheran religion or on Minnesota, would the administration simply send out a mass email declaring the incident to be “uncivil”? I have heard the argument that only one individual is engaged in the acts of vandalism and that his or her views do not define the St. Olaf community. However, these incidents have been too frequent to be the undertaking of one student, and it scares me to know that some students are blatantly disrespecting other students and are using threatening phrases.
We international students live miles away from home. We live at St. Olaf and spend most of our breaks here. This campus becomes a home to us in ways that native students will never understand. In my four years at St. Olaf, I have met wonderful people who have accepted and encouraged me to be who I am. And it is because I think St. Olaf has the potential to be more open and diverse that I encourage my fellow students to take action. I have emailed the school’s administration to let them know how I feel about this issue. I encourage my fellow students to do the same. Also, please be respectful of the differences that you see. While the perpetrator may have thought it silly to write such a statement, many of us see it as a huge violation of safety.
Also, I would like the school administration to acknowledge that this issue is dangerous, not merely “uncivil.” It calls for some kind of direct action on their part to handle the situation. When such incidents of hate and racism arise, the school needs to take appropriate, serious measures to address them so that they are not repeated in the future. It is time for the administration to do more than just send out an email to make international students feel that we belong, are wanted and are safe at St. Olaf College.
–Sujata Singh ’13
Editor’s Note: This letter to the editor was submitted on Sunday, March 3. Dean of Students Rosalyn Eaton-Neeb sent an email to students, faculty and staff on Wednesday, March 6, inviting all to participate in a conversation about the incident during community time on Thursday, March 7.
Hateful, cowardly act abuses freedom
I receive a lot of things in my inbox – junk mail, updates from clubs that I forgot I signed up for, notes from professors – and occasionally, a solemn letter from the Dean of Students about the latest instance of what I like to call “college kids being stupid.” Usually, it is theft or disrespect for town property, which I can brush aside. But the message on Feb. 27 caught and held my attention, as well as broke my heart.
The theft of flags is one matter of concern (as we have no constitutional freedom to take whatever we want), but the outright hatred, cowardice and abuse of free speech is on another plane altogether. I try to see St. Olaf as a place that fosters intellectual growth, a place where students treat diverse opinions with respect. Then some spectacle of sheer dumbness begs me to reconsider.
Long story short, someone scrawled “Death to Gaza” on a student poster.
Hate is hate. “Death to Gaza,” while being a potent sentiment, expresses nothing except unsubstantiated hate. The St. Olaf community does not know whether or not this hatred is the child of thoughtful reflection or that of mindless prejudice. Regardless, I do not think it matters – the perpetrator cannot reasonably expect to receive respectful consideration from a community to which he/she has extended none.
I believe people have the right to say what they think, but I also believe they have a responsibility to stand behind what they say. What pains me most about this incident is not the simple, brute hostility of the message, but rather the author’s cowardice in omitting his/her identity. He/she has implicitly hidden him/herself from the public eye, sidestepping its judgment and all personal consequence. Does the author feel courageous? This is not courage; no, this is a dog barking – and it merits absolutely no respect.
I’m not surprised that the perpetrator didn’t sign his or her name; if I were him or her, I wouldn’t want people to associate my name with such a clumsy act. But, to whomever so tactlessly wished death to almost half a million people, I implore you: Next time have the balls to show your face when you speak your mind so that, if there is in fact any redeeming quality to what you have said, we can discuss it and, maybe, begin to understand each other.
–David DeLuca ’15
Proposed tobacco ban promotes health
On Feb. 12, I submitted a proposal to SGA for a tobacco-free campus policy. I will be the first to admit I was not prepared for the degree of negative – and emotional – feedback it would receive. Upon reflection, I believe a smoke-free policy is a more appropriate intervention, as it targets only that form of tobacco use which directly affects bystanders. To that end, the current smoking restrictions are ineffective, as evidenced by lingering tobacco smoke in commonly used outdoor areas and entryways.
The Feb. 22 article “Campus to go tobacco-free?” published in the Manitou Messenger regarding the SGA meeting indicated that I had “no information.” Correction: I had no information readily available to address the targeted attacks.
Now, please allow me to justify myself. Tobacco use causes the deaths of approximately one in five Americans each year. Nearly 50,000 of those deaths are due to secondhand smoke; according to the Center for Disease Control, 3,400 (approximately the entirety of the St. Olaf student body) are from lung cancer. Nonsmokers with lung cancer? This corroborates the American Lung Association’s (ALA) assertion, and the surgeon general’s, that there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke.
My intent with this proposal is not to attack people who smoke, but to advocate for those who do not. St. Olaf has no jurisdiction over its students’ off-campus activities, but it can influence the immediate social and environmental context. It is not out of line for St. Olaf to discourage destructive behavior. Each year we see campaigns combating eating disorders, alcohol abuse and depression, yet no progressive action plans regarding smoking.
The college years are a critical juncture. It is between the ages of 18 and 21 that most smokers make the transition from infrequent to regular users. The average age of initiating daily use is 20.1 years (ALA 2008). Social environment and social context are critical factors that influence the likelihood of a student developing the habit while in college (ALA 2012).
This policy isn’t about discriminating against smokers. It is about protecting the health of those who do not and creating more accessible, publicized support for those who would like to quit.
–Rachel Dean ’13